Fri, Jun 29, 2012.
Is it just me, or is music playing a bigger role in Canada Day festivities lately? While there have always been concerts on July 1st, dating back to the first July 1st, in 1867 no doubt, it seems that in the past couple of years municipalities have put more focus on them, bringing in bigger-name acts, and trying to make the day more festive that way. Last year, I co-MC'd Moncton's Canada Day concert, which featured, among others, Chris Kirby, Ennis and headliners April Wine, all from out-of-town. This year the Moncton "Whoa Canada" show has Melanie Morgan, Down With Webster and others. And this year sees Fredericton putting perhaps its biggest show ever, with Joel Plaskett and the Emergency capping off the evening from 9 to 10:30, just before the fireworks.
Saint John has been using its Market Square boardwalk area for shows, a natural spot with a natural view. In fact, they can't be contained to just little ol' Canada Day, and there are shows happening all weekend long. Saturday has a full lineup, starting at 2:30, with such performers as Christina Martin, Hawksley Workman, Mother Mother, Tim Chaisson, and Three Sheet. On our nation's birthday, you get another full day of music, capped off by Juno-winner Meaghan Smith taking the 8:30 shift before the fireworks, and Loaded Dice handling things after the big bang.
Also on the bill at 6 PM is one of my favourite Canadian songwriter-performers, Liam Titcomb. It seems like I've been listening to him for ages, even though he's only 24, but the thing is, I did meet him years back, when he first started out at a Bieber-like age. "I'm 25 this year," says Titcomb. It will be 10 years since I signed up with Sony (his first label), so it's hard to believe. I definitely get the old, jaded moments now for sure." He was grabbed at such an early age because he was a natural musician, and not a teen-idol type. Despite his youth, Titcomb already had the makings of someone who would be able to write and perform high-quality singer-songwriter material, with an old-school Top 40 feel. He recorded two well-regarded albums in his teens that put him in the national spotlight, but has actually taken some time before recording his latest, called Cicada, and due in August. It's his first in five years.
There's definitely been serious growth and transformation in my relationship with my songs," he says of the past five years." "I've raised the bar internally with what I'll accept. Now I want to write as many good songs as I can, and pick the great ones. And this time I took the time to do that. I spent a couple of years writing, and as an artist it's really important to me that there's growth."
It also sees Titcomb about to be launched outside the country, with a new record deal that will see Cicada out in the States and Europe. Saint John gets a lucky one-off concert before the take-off for the album, and at this stage Titcomb says he's doesn't know where he'll be going after August: "The record will follow its nose. Whereever the doors open, we'll go. I know we'll be working in England more, and in the U.S., especially where we have a single to promote there."
That new single is the incredibly upbeat "Love Don't Let Me Down", one of those numbers that screams hit the first time you hear it. He says that's typical of the whole album: "Melodically it's a bit more poppy. I veered away from that on my last album, and I wanted to move back. I grew up loving The Beatles, U2, that's what I think of as poppy, and I wanted the hooks to be in there." You can actually pick up that tune, and 3 others now, on a digital EP that has just been released, a warm-up for the album. It includes an acoustic take of the track as well, probably similar to the version you'll hear Canada Day in Saint John, as Titcomb is coming with himself and a drummer who's no stranger to these parts, Brian Talbot of Slowcoaster.
So, enjoy your Canada Day, and the best part of all these concerts is the price tag: Absolutely free, of course.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).